Review by Gordon Justesen
Val Kilmer, Kate Bosworth, Lisa Kudrow, Josh Lucas, Tim Blake Nelson, Dylan
Director: James Cox
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Lions Gate
Features: See Review
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: February 10, 2004
“I’m gonna tell you a story…a story called
It's something of pure irony that some of the best stories to be told
through cinema can be found in the underworld of sleaze. Paul Thomas Anderson
was the first to illustrate this notion with his brilliant breakthrough hit, Boogie
Nights, in 1997. That movie was a fictional chronicle of the adult movie
industry in the late 70s and early 80s, with the feel of the times ever so raw.
It was not only the best film of 1997 for me, but just as much one of the most
important films of the decade.
Now comes a powerful, sometimes difficult journey of a film that matches
in every way, shape and form the sheer audacity of Anderson's film. It's an
account of the events leading up to and following the mysterious, blood soaked
homicide that took place on 8763 Wonderland Ave. in July of 1981. Co writer and
director James Cox's Wonderland is a
masterful piece that mixes fiction and fact to give some strong insight into one
of the most bizarre murders in American history, one that has failed to bring
forth a single conviction, despite the suspicions the movie presents.
All that can be made of the Wonderland murders is the aftermath found in
the crime scene. Four members of a six person drug dealing ring were brutally
killed in the house on Wonderland Ave., most likely by a rival gang extracting a
bit of revenge. What makes this homicide a special case is the fact that ex-porn
star John Holmes was somehow tied to the murder.
Holmes is portrayed by Val Kilmer in a performance that is equal to his
flawless channeling of Jim Morrison in The
Doors. I'm not too familiar with the real Holmes in terms of dialect and
behavior, but Kilmer's portrait convinced me very well that Holmes was a pure
train wreck of a man in the early 80s. He was no longer making porn movies, and
his daily habits consisted of extreme use of drugs and alcohol, which inevitably
lead to his involvement with the people in the home on Wonderland, which
consisted of petty low lives and addicts.
Writer/director Cox has structured the story in a unique fashion, by
offering multiple versions on what happened and why. The narrative is a
reflection of Rashomon, as it offers
two interpretations of the same events. The first of which is told from the
viewpoint of an uninjured survivor of the hit, David Lind (Dylan McDermott).
Interrogated by the cops, Lind reveals a story that points the finger to John
Holmes as the culprit of the murder hit on Wonderland. The reason for this is
that John was the only one who knew anything about an earlier robbery at the
home of nightclub impresario Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian). According to Lind's
story, John possibly spilled the beans on the robbery to Nash himself, who then
backfired with the murder on Wonderland.
The second interpretation of events is given by Holmes, whose story is
entirely different from the one Lind delivered. Holmes maintains that Lind,
along with fellow Wonderland residents Ron Launius (Josh Lucas) and Billy
Deverell (Tim Blake Nelson) were stone cold psychopaths looking to make a big
score, and robbed Nash with the intention of penning the whole thing on him
(Holmes). He also claims that Nash, who was a close associate of his, threaten
to kill him if he didn't reveal who robbed him, and where they lived leading, of
course, to the brutal murders. It's important when watching to remember that
neither story is to be taken as fact, when the fact is that both Holmes and Lind
are clearly trying to save their own skin. Both stories obviously bewildered the
cops, and they were both free of conviction.
also delves into the relationship between Holmes and his free-spirited but
underage girlfriend, Dawn Schiller (Kate Bosworth). Holmes, then estranged from
his wife, Sharon (Lisa Kudrow), engaged in rocky, on and off relationship with
Dawn, who despite becoming just as much of a drug addict as John, stood by her
man for as long as she could. One devastating scene has John pimping Dawn out to
Nash just to ensure that his drug supply won't be cut off.
The characters in Wonderland
aren't very much likeable, but this isn't a movie where one has to identify with
anyone. This is a vivid and raw recreation of a harsh atmosphere, complete with
characters that are superbly memorable and written, even if they happen to be
only drug addicts and thieves. The sheer brutality of this movie will indeed
strike the nerves of those who watch it, but those seeking sympathy with any
individual character will be twice as uncomfortable.
The ensemble cast of Wonderland is
superbly strong. Among the supporting players, Josh Lucas and Dylan McDermott
both turn in some remarkably ferocious tour de forces, and as Holmes' long
suffering wife, Lisa Kudrow offers a performance that is completely different
than anything she has done. And Kate Bosworth proves she's more than a pretty
face as she ventures into her most complex role yet.
James Cox has by far proven himself as a seriously strong filmmaker with
his first big entry, and I look forward to see what he delivers next. He has a
distinct visual style that accompanies the brutal story flawlessly. Through the
use of desaturated colors and bits of grain in the image, Cox paints a strong
look to the film that helps in immersing you right into the time, place, and
represents that dark place that is worth going to every so often in the movies,
just like Boogie Nights was.
It absorbs you, grabs you, throws you in face first into some truly
intense moments of brutal violence, and once you've been pulled out, if you're
like me, you'll hopefully feel as if you have experienced some purely phenomenal
Lions Gate have really come into their own over the past couple of years
in the DVD market. The past few months have been especially good for the studio,
as the quality of their discs have soared enormously. In the case of Wonderland,
this may as well be the most outstanding looking disc to come from Lions Gate
yet. The anamorphic quality is of top notch quality, embracing the
unconventional touches of director James Cox's look to the film, such as grain
and color use, to make a strong and unforgettable looking disc. Everything from
sharpness to colors to image detail is in pure grand mode, as this also marks
one of the first terrific looking discs of the year.
This really caught me by surprise! I had a feeling that the movie's
soundtrack was going to be highlighted by several classic rock tunes, but
nothing could've prepared me for the overall effect that the 5.1 mix provided.
As for the music in the movie, all the songs, including Dobie Gray's "Drift
Away", Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold", and T-Rex's "20th
Century Boy", sound fantastic and really get the place rocking. The sound
mix also scores high points in terms of dialogue clarity and range. The more
intense sequences, especially the graphic Wonderland murder shown near the end
of the film, present a powerhouse, thunderous effect, making good use of all
channels. What a superb piece of audio!
Lions Gate's Limited Edition 2-disc set is one of the best packages I've
seen so far this year.
Disc 1 includes commentary by James Cox and co-writer Captain Mauzner,
Deleted Scenes, Cast Interviews with Val Kilmer, Josh Lucas, Tim Blake Nelson
and Eric Bogosian. Also included is a bit from Court TV's "Hollywood at
Large" on the Wonderland incident, the actual LAPD Crime Scene Video, photo
gallery, trailers and a soundtrack spot.
Disc 2 is the two hour 1998 documentary on John Holmes named Wadd,
which traces the porn legend's life from childhood to the status as the King of